by Albert French ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 17, 1998
The author of two previous novels (Billy, 1993; Holly, 1995) and a Vietnam memoir (Patches of Fire, 1997) returns to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh--familiar also to readers of John Edgar Wideman--for this tale of jazz, violence, and ghetto-porch culture. Panoramic in scope, and full of secondary characters, this Old-School-style narrative never fully coheres, but creates an indelible portrait of a back-alley neighborhood. Here, French captures the ""hum"" of ""hush talk"" that spreads like fire when a local hustler is robbed, gutted and thrown into the high weeds near the train tracks. Though the brutal white cops turn the community upside down, the regular folk know the culprits right away. Jeremiah Henderson, and his beautiful, high-yellow girlfriend, Willet Mercer, dream of New York City, and consider turning Wilier out as a prostitute. When the much disliked Tommy Moses tries testing her, she's so disgusted that she slices him up. With Tommy's pocketful of cash, and his big car, they head first to North Carolina, where Willet hopes to see the son she abandoned at childbirth, who lives with her mother. Meanwhile, back in Homewood, the locals go about their routines: elderly Mr. Allen surveys the scene from his porch, while the women pass news over the fences; Dicky Bird with his pushcart and drunk Bill Lovitt pick junk along the roadside; and Mack Jack, a tall and brooding sax player, roams the streets, living inside the sounds, and bedding a few local women. The novel cuts back and forth between Mack Jack's poetic interior life and Jeremiah and Willet on the road, creating a false expectation of some sort of convergence, but ends instead all too abruptly. Lots of set pieces reveal French's narrative muscle, though the drug and jazz scenes can't beat the recently rediscovered period fictions of Clarence Cooper or Herbert Simmons.
Pub Date: Aug. 17, 1998
Page Count: 208
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998
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